Monday, 8 July 2013

Is your communication remaining ‘hidden in plain sight’?

The brain filters out most of the information it receives, leaving only what it considers important.

So says Rule number 4 of the ‘Rules of Magic’ that I, as a communication consultant and member of The Magic Circle, apply to coaching the business community in Presentation Skills.

Psychologists argue about how much information the brain takes in every single second – I have seen estimates ranging from 500 to as much as 11 million!  What they all agree on is that the brain can only retain a small number of those pieces of information - between about 16 and 40. Modern life has of course exacerbated this disparity, what with marketing messages bombarding us through multi-media 24 hours a day.

Think about when you have chosen a new car or perhaps changed your mobile phone. You have probably devoted careful time and consideration to your decision and may even be congratulating yourself on the select nature of your choice. And then suddenly you seem to see that model everywhere!  It’s because it has become important to you. I had exactly this experience when my car was due to its annual MOT test. The local testing centre had closed down and I cursed the fact that I would have to go in search of another and fretted over how inconvenient it would be getting to and from an alternative supplier, once I had found one. I decided to peer down some alleys near my home in case there was a test centre I had failed to spot in the past. What actually happened was that I pulled out into the main road, just around the corner from my house, and 50 metres on the right was a giant sign saying ‘MOT tests and all your motoring needs’. I had been driving past this sign for nine years – it was even on the school run - and yet it had never registered with me before, because an MOT test had not been important to me. Now that it was important to me the sign loomed large.

This is how people and objects can remain ‘hidden in plain sight’; they blend in so well
with the surroundings that they become effectively invisible. The ‘watch test’ demonstrates this very weIl. It’s an old favourite with magicians, but this version is by former president of The Magic Circle David Berglas. Known as the ‘International Man of Mystery’, David is the guru and hero to many magicians including Derren Brown, who described him as ‘One of our greatest living magical performers’.  David has done much work outside the performance arena, including training police recruits at Hendon in observation techniques.

This is exactly as he described the watch test to me; you might like to try it for yourself.

Without looking, tell me if your watch has
Roman or Arabic numerals, or maybe dashes or dots?

Incredible as it may seem, many people do not know the answer, despite the fact they are looking at their watch all day, every day. Allow them to look to see or check the answer, then ask:

How is the three / six position marked on your watch?

In spite of having just looked at their watch, many are unsure or incorrect, having failed to register that the date or other device actually fills this position. Allow them to look to see or check the answer, then ask:

Has it got a second hand?

Some people will even be unsure about this, but if they answer with great confidence ask them a further question: does it move in steps or sweep motion? Allow them to look to see or check the answer, then ask:

Finally, what time is it?

They have just looked at their watch three times and yet most people will be unable to tell you the time – it simply failed to register.  As David Berglas says: “You looked but you didn’t see”.

So, as well as making our messages clear to our audience we need to make them important to our audience. This is why the best magicians borrow items from their audience rather than simply make their own handkerchief or whatever disappear – it ensures much closer attention.  The answer to how the business presenter can achieve a similar effect is usually staring them in the face – the more you personalize your message to your audience, the more you are talking about their favourite subject and the more important your communication seems to be.  

        Extracted and adapted from Nick Fitzherbert's book
        Presentation Magic, published by Marshall Cavendish 

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